The PICO Network (People Improving Communities Through Organizing) requested in the beginning of 2013 songs on the theme of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented Americans. One of the commercials during the Super Bowl, created by www.defineamerican.org, struck me as the most poignant message of the night. Here are some of the messages it conveyed about American values:
*We are all American, no matter what we look like and where we come from.
*In America, families stick together, people look out for each other, and hard work should be rewarded.
*It is not what you look like or where you were born that makes you an American
*It’s how you live your life and what you do that defines you here in this country
In President Barack Obama's inaugural address, he declared: "Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.'"
In the last few weeks, I thought a great deal about my grandparents who arrived in 1892 and 1905-1906, at a time when there were no quotas that limited the number of people from their respective countries of origin (it was, most likely, mainly Jews coming from Lithuania/Poland at that time - the quotas came in 1924). Early in February, I watched a local DREAMer tell her story to the local Catholic priests (in Las Cruces, NM) through her tears. I was struck by a video of Native American man who, while taking part in a demonstration for immigration reform, confronted protesters with the words "I have been here for many, many centuries - YOU are illegal!"
All of these thoughts and expressions came together, after many attempts, in the lyrics below, that waited for the right melody. This is my statement about American identity in 2013, which, for me, is driven by Leviticus 19:33-34: "When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens, and you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Eternal your God." Justice, compassion and freedom are the value that, I hope, will guide us as we consider how to make many more people living among us feel at home as Americans, our neighbors, and fellow dreamers who will keep before our eyes a vision of liberty enlightening the world.
What it means to be Free (L. Karol – Copyright 2/8/2013)
New recording - June 20, 2013
It’s not where we come from
It’s not the color of our skin
Or just the faiths we live by
That make us American
It’s how we treasure one another
It’s what we do, the way we live
It’s working for equality
That makes us American
So bless this land with justice
Bless the people with compassion
Make us proud of what we can be
We are neighbors, we are dreamers
Still learning together
What it means to be free, what it means to be free
It’s not the closing of our borders
It’s not the fear of the unknown
It’s not hatred in our hearts
That makes us American.
It’s looking out for each other
It’s holding out a helping hand
It’s a pioneering spirit
That makes us American. CHORUS
Some of us are truly recent arrivals
When some have lived here thousands of years
When aspiring citizens want to join our project in democracy
It’s not the time to close our minds and drive them to tears
Can we overcome our differences and reach an understanding
The possibility of compromise makes us American
We’re a rainbow of community when all is said and done
Our nation’s founders put it best - Out of many One
What it means to be free - what it means to be free
Here is a revised multitrack recording of the song - completed June 20, 2013
"What it means to be Free" video - images compiled by Pastor Linda Mervine, First Christian Church, Las Cruces, NM
To learn more about CAFe', go to http://www.organizenm.org/